Get a Taste of Farmed Animal Lives with Farm Sanctuary’s Virtual Experience

fsvirtualexperienceWhat’s it like for animals raised in factory farms, and how does that compare to their natural lives? Farm Sanctuary, a farmed animal education and advocacy organization, recently launched Virtual Experience, which is designed to teach the public about factory farming conditions. People can also learn about some of the rescued animals that live out their lives in peace on one of FS’s two sanctuaries.

Visitors to the virtual experience take on the role of a photographer who is taking pictures of animals in factory farms and at the sanctuary. Clicking on various images on the screen reveals quotes, factoids, images and video, providing information.

The factory farming section of the exhibit includes graphic photos and video, so it’s not for all ages. However, the Sanctuary part of the exhibit will help connect anyone with rescued animals.

Check it out and share it with others.

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7 Simple Things You Can Do to Show Respect for Chickens

chickensdayToday, May 4 is International Respect for Chickens Day, a campaign developed by United Poultry Concerns to celebrate chickens (as friends, not food) and to bring attention to the atrocious treatment that chickens suffer in farming operations.

Here are 7 simple things that you can do to show your respect for chickens:

  1. Don’t eat them. Chickens, especially those on factory farms, endure horrific suffering, just for us to enjoy a fleeting taste on our tongues. Even those raised “humanely” usually experience enormous stress and suffering in their transport and slaughter — some are even boiled alive. Learn more about the conditions that these beings endure and ask yourself whether you’d want to experience the same. If not, then you have a responsibility to stop contributing to their suffering and death. Find out more:
  2. Take the egg-free pledge. May is National Egg Month, and egg producers are working hard to convince citizens to eat more eggs. Instead, take the egg-free pledge and choose egg-free products for at least 30 days. Battery hens (those hens who are used to lay eggs for human consumption) endure terribly inhumane conditions, and male “battery chicks” are killed immediately, since they are of no use to the industry, usually by slowly suffocating them or by grinding them up alive.
  3. Question your assumptions. Many people think of chickens as stupid animals, but that’s completely untrue. When we take the time to study what chickens are really like, the degree of their intelligence and the complexity of their lives emerges. Check out:
  4. Learn more about them. In addition to learning about how they’re treated for food, learn about the natural lives of chickens. For example, did you know…
    • Building a private nest is so important to chickens that they’ll go without food and water, if they have to, to instead be able to use a nest.
    • They often talk to their babies before they’ve been born.
    • They take dust baths instead of showers.
    • They can see light in the morning almost an hour before humans can.
    • At night, they like to fly up to safe places in trees to sleep.
    • They recognize their names (if given one by humans) and the faces of others.
    • Chicken moms are very courageous and will go to great lengths to protect their babies.
    • They are intelligent and good problem solvers. They can understand that, even when an object is taken away, it still exists.
    • They have separate alarm calls, depending on whether a predator is traveling by land or air.

    Find out more through useful resources, such as:

    • The Natural History of the Chicken (from PBS)
    • Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good by Jonathan Balcombe
    • The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals by Jeffrey Masson
    • The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery
  5. Watch your language. Using words and phrases such as “bird brain,” “running around like a chicken with his head cut off,” to “chicken out,” and so on, spread disrespect for and misinformation about chickens. Think consciously about the language that you use.
  6. Share with others. Use your knowledge about chickens and the way they’re treated to compassionately educate others. Point adults to websites and videos. Share age-appropriate activities and resources with kids (suggested ones here, here and here). Don’t just blast everyone with horrifying accounts; share positive and uplifting stories. Help them get to know chickens and then encourage them to take positive action to help end their suffering and exploitation.
  7. Meet a chicken or two. It’s much more difficult to make judgments and assumptions about those we haven’t personally met. Take advantage of a farmed animal sanctuary near you and go and meet some chickens! Get to know them!

Animal Visuals Offers Glimpse into Lives and Deaths of Farmed Animals

The principal at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee knew that it was difficult for students to envision just how many 6 million is when they were studying the Holocaust (the number of people who were exterminated by the Nazis), so they decided to collect paperclips (one clip to represent one person) to help create a visual representation (see the documentary about the project it became).

Likewise, when we ask people to think about the number of land animals killed for food in the U.S. each year – more than 10 billion – the number alone can be a poor representative of the depth and breadth of suffering and death involved. Recently I found a powerful little visual representation of the number of chickens (9 billion), pigs (116 million) and cows (35 million) killed in the U.S. for food in 2008.

Created by Mark Middleton, founder of Animal Visuals, the brief video shows little animated cow, pig and chicken carcasses sliding along a slaughterhouse line at the average rate of slaughter (such as 287 per second for chickens). The data for the animation comes directly from the USDA.

When you sit and watch all those bodies swinging (and sometimes kicking) along the lines across your screen, and note the counter tallying up the number of cows, pigs and chickens who are being killed during those brief seconds that you’re watching, it’s a visceral image, without being too graphic, so it’s a great little too to share with others. (There’s also a link to “stop” the killing lines and find out about vegan resources.)

Middleton’s goal with Animal Visuals is to “provide compelling visuals and interactive media to empower animal advocates, educate the public, and expose the injustices of animal exploitation.”

He has also created a Virtual Battery Cage, which offers a glimpse into what a battery hen endures while in her cage. The “virtualization” also includes sound and factoids. Although I’m glad this tool exists, I don’t think it’s as strong as the slaughter animation; but, it’s still a new and different perspective.

Look for Middleton to create more such tools in the future.

The Quotosphere: Humanity’s Cycle of Violence Toward Animals (& Other Humans)

babypigsThere have been a lot of stories in the news lately about cruelty to animals, from the 10-year old matador in Spain who killed 6 young bulls in one weekend, to the U.S. government’s poisoning of starlings and other birds to help out a cattle and poultry farmer in New Jersey. There have been more, but I’m depressed and saddened enough at just these two.

Stephanie Ernst, the Animal Rights blogger for Change.org picked up on the starlings story and did a post. One of the commenters shared a thoughtful, insightful quote about the cycle of violence that humans perpetrate on animals (and on other humans). I thought it was a terrific quote, so I wanted to share it here:

“Isn’t man an amazing animal? He kills wildlife – birds, kangaroos, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice, foxes, and dingoes – by the millions in order to protect his domestic animals and their feed. Then he kills domestic animals by the billions and eats them. This in turn kills man by the millions, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative – and fatal – health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. So then man tortures and kills millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, some people are dying of sad laughter at the absurdity of man, who kills so easily and so violently, and once a year sends out a card praying for ‘Peace on Earth.'”

~ from the preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm, by C. David Coats

~ Marsha

Wayne Pacelle in the News, Leading the Charge to Help Farmed Animals

With less than a week to go until the election, most people are focused on the presidential race. (I know my stomach is clenched tighter than a clam, and I wince and peek with only one eye when I check the latest polls and speculations.) But the Proposition 2 race in California will have an equally significant impact for millions of farmed animals. As you may know, if passed, the California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act would phase out the use of gestation and veal crates, as well as battery cages.

There have been an enormous number of people and organizations working on behalf of farmed animals and Proposition 2. But every campaign needs a spokesperson, and one of the most visible and vocal advocates of Prop 2 has been Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. (Pacelle and HSUS are responsible for initiating the ballot initiative.) Recently there has been a bit of press about and by him, which I though was worth sharing. The New York Times recently ran a great feature story about Pacelle, Prop 2 and the animal protection movement, and the LA Times ran an op-ed from Pacelle about Prop 2 in Sunday’s paper. The Huffington Post also recently ran a story about Pacelle and Proposition 2. A columnist at Examiner.com talks about Prop 2 and mentions that, although he’s a proud meat eater, he’s impressed with Pacelle’s strategies and that Pacelle “seems to be a voice of sanity from animal rights groups.

If you haven’t checked out Pacelle’s blog, A Humane Nation, be sure to do so. It’s on my RSS feeds.

~ Marsha

Lessons Down on the Farm (Sanctuary)

I've admired cows from afar; now I get to show some love up close!

Some of you may have been wondering where the heck all the posts have gone. I’ve been traveling in the Northeast since July 3 (combination of work and visiting family), and have had brief and infrequent Internet access, so my ability to post has been nearly non-existent. But, my time has been well spent. Among other adventures, John (my husband) and I made a pilgrimage to the vegan vatican, Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York (near one of the lovely finger lakes).

We’ve been long-time supporters, but have never had the opportunity to actually visit either of the sanctuaries (the other is in Orland, California). So, when our plans took us out east, we knew we had to visit.

This guy loved me because I knew where to find his scritchy "sweet spot."

As you can imagine, it’s an amazing place. Cows, pigs, sheep and goats, chickens, ducks and geese, rabbits and turkeys all have their own luscious spaces to roam, to feed, to snooze, to hang with their friends. Farm Sanctuary makes it clear to visitors that we’re guests in the animals’ homes.

The whole time I was there among the animals, I felt like a giddy kid. I petted cows and scritched goats (their favorite spot is right between their horns, where they can never reach). I gently stroked a turkey’s feathers and got to hug pigs and give them belly rubs. I coaxed kids into feeling the softness of the pigs’ bellies and giving the goats a little scratch. It was heaven!

Not every woman realizes her dream of getting to hug a pig!

While we were there, we went on two of the tours (as I didn’t get in enough cow petting during the first one). And, I’m really glad that we did. During the first tour, our guide (a young intern in her late teens/early twenties) was rather perfunctory in leading us through the different barns to meet the various animals. We spent only a few minutes in each of the barns, and the information she shared was general and given distractedly. Most of the visitors weren’t paying attention; some were talking loudly over what she was saying. It seemed that she was either really unsure of herself, or completely bored with the repetition of doing the tour a gazillion times — just another thing to do as quickly and painlessly as possible. Since I’d never been to a Farm Sanctuary before, I didn’t really have many expectations (other than the hopes of getting to hug animals). But, I was pretty disappointed. The ennui of the tour guide had diminished my enthusiasm for the experience.

A "heritage" breed rescued from an organic farm enjoys his mud bath, and posting for his fans.

Fortunately, we decided to go on a second tour, which happened to have a different tour guide. We were only going to stay long enough to see the cows again (the first stop). We ended up staying for the entire tour. It was a completely different — and amazing — experience. This guide connected with us from the beginning. He was friendly and personable, and took the time to share important information with us. One of the biggest differences in his approach was that, at each barn, he introduced us to several of the animals there and told their stories, thus interweaving the personal life histories of these beings in front of us with the horrors that are unleashed on farmed animals in the U.S. Then, just as importantly, he gave us time to just be with the animals. Both approaches made the tour more meaningful and powerful.

The experience reminded me how important our daily interactions with others are, especially when we’re serving in our roles as advocates. Are we answering people’s questions (you know, those ones we’ve been asked a million times before) distractedly, with a little eye-rolling, or with sincerity and a genuine desire to connect with them? Are we repeating facts about the cruelties and injustices of the world (or going into details graphic enough to make horror director plug his ears), or are we making an effort to share compelling stories and to help people see the issues from a more personal perspective? Are we rushing through, to hurry up and get to the end of the interaction? Or, are we taking time to just be with the people around us and give them time and space to think and explore and inquire?

Every interaction we have with someone can mean a positive experience that brings them closer to making more humane choices, or a negative experience that drives them farther away. We each have the power to help decide which it will be.

~ Marsha

A Matter of Choice

In mid-May, the Chicago city council announced that the ban on foie gras that had been enacted in 2006 was overturned. Animal protection advocates banged their heads against the wall in frustration, while foie gras fanatics cheered and happily renewed serving the “delicacy.” Why didn’t the ban stick? Simply, because people don’t like to be told what to do.

One of the first phrases we learn to utter at the top of our voices as kids (after “No!”) is “You can’t tell me what to do!” Especially in the U.S., our culture cultivates an almost-religious fervor for individualism and the freedom to believe and do and choose pretty much as we want. Go diversity! Go freedom!

People want to feel like they have a choice, and they don’t want that freedom of choice (whether illusion or reality) to be taken away. That’s one reason laws are so complicated and tricky. As nice as it would be to just legislate everyone into making humane choices, you can’t create a humane world by forcing people to comply with something they haven’t freely chosen. We have daily evidence that compelled obedience doesn’t work: murder, rape, pollution, discrimination, child abuse, slave labor, drug use, corruption, speeding in a school zone –- we have laws in the U.S. that prohibit all of these actions, yet they are still daily occurrences. If we ask everyone whether these behaviors are wrong, most people will say yes; that hasn’t stopped them from committing these acts anyway.

The New York Times recently published an article about the fact that even though cockfighting is now banned in New Mexico, the law has only changed the way most cockfighters do business; it hasn’t stopped them. Slavery is illegal in every single country, yet there are an estimated 27 million slaves around the world.
A May Gallup poll conducted to explore how people feel about the treatment of animals showed that, while many people don’t approve of banning practices, they do support positive action (such as passing laws concerning the treatment of farmed animals).

There is definitely a place for legislation. Legislation has brought about the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act, the right for gays to marry in two states, the banning of gestation stalls in Oregon, and more. But laws can also lull people into a false sense of security (Oh, that’s against the law now. Good. Nothing more needs to be done. I don’t need to take any action.). And, they don’t stop the actions of those who don’t care about the law.

Creating a humane world can only happen by increasing the number of people who choose to live humanely of their own free will. So, yes, let’s continue to work on legislation for a more humane world. But, more importantly, let’s work to educate, inspire and empower people to make daily choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet.

If a critical mass of people believe that slavery is wrong and take positive action, no more slavery. If enough people speak out against cruelty to animals and take positive action, no more cruelty. If enough people truly want a humane world and make choices every day to help manifest that vision, then we’ll have that humane world.

~ Marsha